“What’s Good About That?” by Dan Hotchkiss

As an advocate for asset-based leadership, I found the article by Dan Hotchkiss helpful.  As a pastor I believed in building on congregational strengths.  But was I asking the right questions?  The questions I might find myself asking: What’s working?  What’s satisfying?  What’s going well?  But was I asking the right questions?    I like the framework of the the question that Hotchkiss asks:  “What influence would we like our faith to have in the community today, and how can we gather a community of leaders who can make that happen?”  I encourage you to read the Alban Institute article:  http://www.congregationalconsulting.org/whats-good-about-that/

Including People who have Disabilities


Amy Julia Becker has written about a topic close to my heart—including people with disabilities into our churches. She says,

“If people in your community are going to Wal-Mart in their wheelchairs but not coming to your church, a lot of times the church community calls them shut-ins. They’re not shut-ins; they’re just shut out of the church” (Ned Stoller (cited in Making Churches Accessible to the Disabled, 1998). When your church considers including people with disabilities in your congregation, what questions are you asking? Does the conversation run something like: What sort of accommodations should we make? Which ones would make sense since some accessibility options are really expensive? An elevator would take a major campaign!

What if we began to ask ourselves, our churches, and our ministries this question; “What is it that we are missing? What are we missing out on because we are not as inclusive of persons with disabilities as we truly would like to be?”

I commend this article for anyone interested in learning more about including those with disabilities as members of the whole body of Christ.  http://www.christianitytoday.com/amyjuliabecker/2014/april/including-people-with-disabilities-in-your-church.html


PHEWA (Presbyterian Health Education and Welfare Assocaition) also has a network for those interested in this topic.





Many in our beloved church have a “love/hate” relationship with the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)   With the recent changes announced by the board impacting our health care benefits, it is no wonder there is a high level of frustration. This has not been my experience.

From where I sit, I know that the members of the Board of Pensions agonize over their decisions just as we agonize over decisions in our ministries. I truly trust that the staff is focused on our “Wellbeing” with the decisions they make!

This board has been entrusted the care of our contributions—our livelihood and healthcare and retirement and our families wellbeing! The board and staff are serious stewards in making decisions that will assure all who place their lives in the Board’s hands will have basic benefits backed with real dollars invested and held in trust on behalf of us all.   The Board of Pensions is not going to go bankrupt!

For over forty years, I have had a positive experience in working with the Board of Pensions. A few tips from my perspective as a pastor:

Read the information the Board sends out to all members.  Make sure that church sessions and governing boards also see these materials. 

 1.  Make it a point to get to know your regional representative.   If you are not addressing a specific issue, all you really have to do is pick up the phone or construct and email that asks:  What should I be thinking about at this state of my career? 

 2.  Keep a file of current materials sent by the Board of Pensions or Benefits Connect or Active Health Management.  More important, keep a file on all the special papers the Board sends you giving you updates on where you stand with your benefits.

 3.  Register with BENEFITS CONNECT and ACTIVE HEALTH and CATAMARAN (Prescription Drug benefits).  Look for emails from these providers that support the work of the Board of Pensions

 4.  Personally, I found BENEFITS CONNECT especially helpful. It is easy to register and know exactly where you stand with your Board of Pensions benefits!

 5.  Keep a note book logging all your contacts with the Board of Pensions.  This is something I decided to do several years ago.  It is important to know dates and times and names of people we call for advise and help.

 6.  Be patient:   It takes time to apply for and receive benefits.  It took me more than one phone call to fully understand the nuances in working with multiple agencies all under the umbrella of the Board of Pensions.

I recently applied for disability.   I had a contact persons who was available to help me walk through the entire process of applying for disability.   This is a complex process! My contact person was always available to help me answer my many questions.

When I was approved to receive benefits, referral was made to ALLSUP. INC that is currently helping me work with the Social Security Administration. Another wonderful benefit that didn’t cost me anything and helped me avoid standing in a long line with SSA.

Granted, there are going to be bumps I the road when it comes to our using our benefits. Trust me! Things will be much easier if we are proactive early in our careers in getting to know about the work and benefits we pay for.

My experience has been positive as I have worked through these layers/levels of contact under the umbrella of the Board of Pensions.





What’s NEXT?

Many main-line churches are struggling/closing. Buildings are old and expensive to maintain. Membership is growing older. Pledges and congregational contributions are no longer sustaining all the needs of growing church budgets. Churches can no longer support full-time staff. All of this while churches try to maintain worship and faithful ministries centered in Christ and God’s Word.  What’s NEXT?  This summary is a good place to start.  Plan now to attend the 2015 event in Chicago.

WHAT A RETREAT! Camp Lu Wix E from 1995-2004

What a Retreat! Camp Lu Wix E


This phrase comes to mine in reflecting (and writing this morning) on what was one of the most satisfying experiences of my ministry. While pastor of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church a group of church members would invest quality time during Lent sharing in a special retreat experience. We did this for ten years in a row. An important part of our Lenten journey, this was always a pivotal experience for me as a pastor in finding some “sacred time and space” in order nurture a closer relationship with God in the context of our being a community of faith.   

As many as 20 to 25 adults, youth and children would attend this retreat. This was a great number given the size of our congregation.   We traveled about 45 minutes to Wixom Lake and Camp Lu Wix E[1] (owned and operated by St. John’s Lutheran Church in Saginaw).  Volunteers would work on preparing meals, crafts, games, various recreational activities—while I would focus as pastor on the program. [2]

We would gather on Friday evening for an orientation, opening program, worship and snacks. Saturday would be a full day of study and play – private walks along the shore of the lake, photography, crafts – a host of activities for young and old. While some of the program time was designed to be intergenerational, we also provided special time for the children in a different building. During free-time in the afternoon, many enjoyed taking a nap! Sunday would be a time to conclude our program and sharing in worship with communion.

Some will remember the little RED DOT. As a game for children and adults, I would hide a small little red dot someplace in one of the public spaces we used for this retreat. This dot was the size of pencil eraser. The first person to find the DOT would get a free trip to a treasure chest. We always brought along a chest full of small toys and gifts for the children and adults….many of these items in the box could be used as gifts to be given to secret pals (see below).      

 The ten themes we enjoyed:

 1. 1995  Angels 2. 1996  Seasons on the Christian Calendar

3. 1997  Heroes and Heroines in the Bible

4. 1998  Bible Concepts

5. 1999  World Religions

6. 2000  Bible Covenants

7. 2001  Journeys of Paul

8. 2002  I Corinthians Study (Bill Kehrer Leader)

9. 2003  The New Catechism

10.2004 Biblical Prophets  

In looking back at this list of retreats, I am amazed that we actually held these retreats for ten years in a row. I think the only reason we discontinued these retreats was my personal inability to physically handle working in this retreat environment.

Why highlight this particular experience?   I truly believe these retreats were among the most important of all Lenten events that could be planned for members of the congregation to grow and mature in their personal relationship with God.   This was also a significant bonding experience for member of the church. This was also one of those rare opportunities for the congregation to see me outside the context of Sunday worship.   Having served my first years of ministry with a focus on Christian Education, I knew that building a significant retreat experience away from the every day hustle and bustle of life could be as meaningful way to help members of the congregation grow spiritually!

The closing worship service was the most meaningful. We would always gather in a circle. In addition to singing and my sharing s short sermon, the most memorable part of these worship experiences was sharing gifts. How did this work?

Prior to the beginning of each retreat, we would draw the name of someone on this retreat who would become our “secret pal”!   As a secret pal we would try to do special things for this person. Also, each camper would have a gift to give his or her secret pal during this closing worship. This often became an emotional

Needless to say, the sharing we did in this circle during closing worship was for many an emotional experience.  

We would then close the retreat experience with communion, a noon meal – cleaning and sweeping the camp space.  

In thinking about this, I was always aware that taking this many members away from weekly worship back in Saginaw could create a bit of a “hole” that would need to be filled when we returned. For this reason, it was always important for me to make sure we shared some of our retreat stories and singing some of our camp songs so the rest of the congregation could capture a glimpse of what we did while away.


[1]   http://stjohnlutheranelcasaginaw.weebly.com/camp-lu-wix-e.html

[2]   Always a bit frustrating that I would be leaving behind a small congregation that would gather on Sunday with a guest preacher. I was always lamented the fact that more members of our unified church community could not be part of this wonderful retreat experience.